Things have been bad and, when they are, the guilt of it weighs down on me as if gravity has doubled. Bad enough that I hide in the bathroom from my kids. Bad enough they’ve memorized lines from Bob’s Burgers. Bad to the point of not turning the stove on for weeks at a time. Bad enough my son answers with “quack” as a genuine response thanks to the BBC’s “Sarah & Duck”. Bad enough that my children asked if they could have “hot food”. Bad enough that they ate corn dogs and popcorn for dinner three separate times in a two week span because that’s how many times we did dinner at our local theatre last month.
Those words you dread overhearing, the ones you mumble to yourself when you’re scared of it being true, I’m a bad mom.
I don’t try to organize new activities, take them to activities, or try to find them activities as of late because I’d had my fill of failure. Having two children that run in separate directions is like chasing rats. You’re not quite sure you want to catch them.
I need help, I don’t enjoy every minute, I don’t even like the park, and I don’t think everything is my fault. Which means I stopped pretending to be able to maintain a juggling act of emotional chainsaws. It means I’ve accepted that it’s ok to be an imperfect mom because I’m an imperfect person. That it’s acceptable, an unalienable right, to expect some mercy as a human being.
Yet I didn’t want to share that with you. The reader who probably follows me because you’re in the parenting trenches yourself, the mom stuck on the train heading to work, the dad who feels alone, the friends whom I never get to see. Yes, I who habitually over share via my writing didn’t have the courage to say the words, “Help, I’m spiralling. I’m miserable.”
Because, in truth, I’m a burnt out mom. I’m a mom surrounded by the neurologically diverse. A mom with past lives and haphazardly patched wounds herself. A mentally overloaded and overburdened caretaker. A cliche and fodder for sniping by those that view my life as easy or of little merit. I’m also a typical mom because so many of us feel the same.
Ever notice how a mom begging for compassion is dismissed and judged? No? Then let me introduce you to my least favorite “helpful” sentiments I’ve had expressed to me.
You should ask for help…
Sounds like someone needs a break…
You just need a night out…
What type of self care are you doing?…
These words seem harmless enough, right? Banal and benign yet with an oaky note of self-righteous helpfulness. They all express the same message. It’s your fault you’re feeling this way and you are the only one who can fix this situation.
Based on popular belief, yes, we are all accountable for our own mental and physical health. Yet if someone is on a bike and I jab a stick into their spokes doesn’t my sabotage make me complicit at the least when they yard sale on their chin?
It’s no wonder moms blame themselves and feel ashamed for being honest about their experiences. It’s a socially sanctioned form of gaslighting when we turn on each other because we’ve all been conditioned to believe THIS is our job. To be the default parent who takes on too much. The silent martyr who puts others’ needs before their own. The calm saint of sereness who is faultless.
To express yourself is complaining and ungrateful yet to make light of parenting with humor is sometimes considered flippant or boastful. We should ask for help yet be ashamed of ourselves for asking because of the “blessing” bestowed upon us.
My breaking point recently was when my husband was overseas. I was on the phone with a nurse about my son who was at the baby gate, doing his best to try and shake it loose, after being on hold for fifteen minutes with unbearable tinny pop music in my ear while squeaky cartoons blasted in the other. All so I could wait to be lectured by her about how I should being doing more as a mom and be a better “advocate” for my children. This person who doesn’t know me, but interacts with parents like me every day, heard me crying out for help and told me I was undeserving. The gauzy thin gate of my internal filter broke loose, “Thank you so much for judging me. I’ll get back to letting my children down so you can ruin someone else’s day.”
A routine week for me is multiple calls to our insurance, sleepless twilight hours of research, filling out forms, reviewing notes and inquiring for more assistance, organizing multiple calendars, keeping a log of vitamins and supplements along with behavior to track the responses… I didn’t sign up for this. The unseen toil of the mental workload is grinding me down. The Disney-like fantasy of dancing with an angelic infant in a beautifully appointed playroom in dappled sunlight has long been put to rest.
Now I fantasize about drifting slowly in a boat down a shaded river while resting and drinking adult drinks. Reading a book that’s not being grabbed out of my hands. Wearing clothes without the fear of stains. Enjoying the silence. I’d even settle for a comfortable chair under a shady tree.
I believe all caretakers deserve compassion, and boat drinks, but mostly simple kindness and help without having to grovel.